Thursday, June 26, 2008

LAWG Report: Appropriations Committee activity on Cuba related bill

Latin America Working Group

June 26, 2008

Dear Cuba Policy Advocates,

Cuba Provisions in Financial Services Appropriations bill: We bring you a brief update today about activity on these provisions in the House Appropriations Committee. We wrote to you about this on Thursday, June 19. Yesterday, June 25, Congressman Jose Serrano (D-NY) presented his Financial Services Appropriations bill to the full Appropriations Committee for approval and readying for a vote on the floor of the House.

The bill included three small Cuba provisions that do the following:

1) Allow Cuban Americans to travel to Cuba to visit family once a year rather than once every three years;

2) Expand the U.S. definition of family to include aunts, uncles, 1st cousins, nieces, and nephews.

3) Tweak the "cash-in-advance" regulations to allow agricultural goods to leave U.S. ports for Cuba prior to receiving Cuba's cash payment; title is transfered after the cash is received in the seller's account.

The bill passed out of the Appropriations Committee with the Cuba language intact. This is a small, but positive step -- one tiny chink in the full travel ban. Obviously we -- and you -- want more than this. We want unrestricted travel for all Americans to Cuba.

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) spoke strongly against the Cuba provisions in committee, as did Rep. Allen Boyd (D-FL); but they did not offer an amendment to remove the language from the bill. Rep. Serrano responded with clear arguments for the Cuba provisions, and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) also spoke passionately in favor of engagement with Cuba. It is our assessment that Reps. Wasserman Schultz and and Boyd were under pressure as Democrats not to offer an amendment but to defer their opposition to the House floor when the bill is considered by the full House. Also, we believe that they did not have the votes to defeat the Cuba provisions in committee.

The next step is for the bill to move to the House floor for amendments and approval -- in July or September, date yet uncertain. Because this is an election year, and because it is unlikely that appropriations bills will go to President Bush's desk for his signature this year (the Democrats want to be able to re-write the budget and the appropriations bills in early 2009 under a potential Democratic president), we cannot predict the fate of this bill. However, if it comes to the House floor, we have to be ready to defend the Cuba provisions. Losing would send the absolutely wrong message to south Florida and to a new Administration. So, we will come back to you for your help in contacting your members of Congress when the Financial Services bill has a date for floor consideration. Our task will be more difficult in front of the whole House; we will need you.

We want to thank Rep. Serrano and his staff for the good work they did on this bill.

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JG: Hip! Hip! Hooray!

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